A delegation of journalists, writers, playwrights and peace activists will visit the US Embassy tomorrow to deliver a letter to the US ambassador to Britain. The letter will call on the United States government to do everything within its power to de-escalate the conflict with North Korea.
US activist Gloria Steinem (center) and Liberian Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee (right) march with other activists along the military wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on May 24, 2015. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)
Without strong public protest and a unified demand for peace, Trump and the more hawkish among his retinue may feel empowered to channel his ''fire and fury'' rhetoric into actions leading to nuclear conflict in the Korean Peninsula. That is why there must be immediate mobilization to stem Trump's moves toward the warpath.
US activist Gloria Steinem (center) and Liberian Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee (right) march with other activists along the military wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on May 24, 2015. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)
On August 2, US Sen. Lindsey Graham paraphrased President Donald Trump's stance on the prospect of conflict in the Korean Peninsula as follows: "If thousands die, they're going to die over there." Less than a week later, on August 8, President Trump responded to North Korea's latest missile test by threatening to unleash "fire and fury" against Pyongyang, raising alarms throughout the international community.
These statements were only the latest excerpts of the ongoing hostile dialog between North Korea and the United States since both parties signed an armistice 64 years ago. A peace treaty was never reached.
Will Trump's heightened rhetoric lead the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war anytime soon? Most likely not. As many analysts point out, deterrence still holds in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, despite bellicose rhetoric on both sides. The United States knows that North Korea now has the capability and willingness to strike back if attacked. North Korea knows firsthand the overwhelming power of the United States, well proven in the devastation visited on the populace during the Korean War, when more than 30 percent of Koreans were either killed or injured.
However, without strong public protest against his aggressive rhetoric and a unified demand for peace, Trump and the more hawkish among his retinue may well feel empowered to channel his "fire and fury" rhetoric into actions leading to nuclear conflict in the Korean Peninsula. That is why there must be immediate mobilization to stem Trump's moves toward the warpath.
While a war is not imminent in the Korean Peninsula as a result of Trump's bluster, the real reason for alarm is not what the president has said, but rather what he has done since being elected.
Donald Trump has proved to be the most hawkish president in modern history. During the first six months of his presidency, the United States has escalated the bombing of Iraq and Syria to unprecedented levels. By July 21, 2017, according to Foreign Policy, the Trump administration had dropped close to 20,750 bombs, nearly 80 percent of Obama's total for all of 2016.
Trump's hawkish policies have resulted in devastating costs to Iraqi and Syrian civilians. A military campaign of "fire and fury" in the Korean Peninsula would also carry staggering human costs.
There are more than 75,000 US troops stationed in South Korea and Japan, along with more than 136,000 US civilians in South Korea. In addition to all the lives that would be lost in North Korea as a result of US military action, millions of South Korean lives and many thousands of American lives will be in the range of North Korean firepower. This alone should rule out the prospect of military action in the Korean Peninsula.
Nor can US-led UN sanctions on North Korea achieve an effective solution. The North Korean regime has proven to be extremely resilient in enduring sanctions, the costs of which fall upon the most vulnerable of North Korea's citizens -- sick people, elderly people, and women and children who play no part in Kim Jong-un's policies.
Moreover, time is running out. Even if sanctions are successfully implemented, it will take months for them to take effect, during which time North Korea can continue to develop its missile and nuclear programs, and the cycle of hostile and bellicose exchanges can lead further down the path to war.
During his recent phone call with Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in stressed that "South Korea can never accept a war erupting again on the Korean Peninsula," insisting that "the North Korean nuclear issue must be resolved in a peaceful, diplomatic manner through a close coordination between South Korea and the United States." Indeed, the only viable option to end the current standoff is diplomacy, best exemplified in concrete proposals such as the freeze-for-freeze dictum, which proposes that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile testing in return for the United States and South Korea halting their annual military exercises. More than 60 percent of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support direct negotiation between the United States and North Korea, a sentiment shared by 80 percent of South Koreans. According to the latest survey by Chicago Council on Global Affairs, "Military action ... as in past surveys, lacks public support. Overall, 28 percent of Americans favor sending US troops to destroy North Korea's nuclear facilities."
North Korea's recent advances in bolstering its deterrence capability are creating a structural condition of deterrence buttressed by a balance of power in the Korean Peninsula. While this development represents a potential game-changer in the region, it also creates a historic opportunity for President Trump to leverage diplomacy in order to strike a deal with North Korea, thereby achieving what no other US president has been able to. Without a mass public mobilization demanding peace, however, Trump may feel empowered to push toward a nuclear conflict rather than seizing this opportunity for diplomacy.
On August 10, a day after Trump's "fire and fury" threat, an emergency anti-war rally was held in front of the White House. Unfurling banners declaring, "no war," "reunification, not nuclear annihilation" and "who will keep us safe?" protesters called on the president to pursue diplomacy rather than conflict. H.K. Suh, the vice president of the National Association of Korean Americans, appealed to Trump to "stand down," warning that "one misstep could lead to catastrophe." Suh is one of hundreds of thousands of Korean-Americans fighting for a peaceful reunification of Korea. It's time for Koreans and Americans to unite in a people's movement of broad-based "fire and fury" against any attack on human security from any force in the Korean Peninsula.
Blackwater Founder Erik Prince Urges Trump to Privatize Afghan War and Install Viceroy to Run Nation
The White House is considering an unprecedented plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan at the urging of Erik Prince, founder of the now-defunct private mercenary firm Blackwater. Prince told USA Today the plan would include sending 5,500 private mercenaries to Afghanistan to advise the Afghan army. It would also include deploying a private air force -- with at least 90 aircraft -- to carry out the bombing campaign against Taliban insurgents. The plan's consideration comes as a federal appeals court has overturned the prison sentences of former Blackwater contractors who were involved in a 2007 massacre in Nisoor Square in central Baghdad, killing 17 civilians when they opened fire with machine guns and threw grenades into the crowded public space. For more, we speak with longtime investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, as you mentioned, Prince, Erik Prince, is proposing for Afghanistan that the U.S., under a viceroy, send him in as a private contractor with a private air force and the ability, using iPads, to call in airstrikes all over Afghanistan. I --
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Erik Prince, so people can hear this, a very interesting discussion earlier this week that the former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince had with CNN's Erin Burnett, talking about his plans, the proposal that he put forward to President Trump for Afghanistan.
ERIK PRINCE: You have to put someone in charge. There has to be a lead federal official, or, in this case, almost a bankruptcy trustee, that rationalizes the U.S. presence, that is in charge of all policy. Second, they have to stay there for a while, so you have that continuity of decision-making.
ERIN BURNETT: OK, so the word you used for that person was "viceroy," was an American viceroy.
ERIK PRINCE: And I mean viceroy. That's a colonial term. The last thing we --
ERIN BURNETT: It is a colonial term.
ERIK PRINCE: Sure. But that colonial term came from -- in the British Empire, they had very little communications, and you had to put someone in charge that can make the decisions, absent a ship going back and forth. But in this case, it really means someone that can rationalize the basic mess that has U.S. policy been. Whether it's in Afghanistan or Pakistan, we have gone backwards.
ERIN BURNETT: So, when we use the word, though, obviously -- you point out it is a colonial word, right? The definition is a ruler exercising authority in a colony on behalf of a sovereign. In that case, Trump would perhaps be the sovereign, Afghanistan an American colony. I mean --
ERIK PRINCE: Again, I'm --
ERIN BURNETT: -- it's a loaded word. I mean, have the Afghans --
ERIK PRINCE: I say that --
ERIN BURNETT: Are they talking to you about this? Are they open to it?
ERIK PRINCE: I've talked to plenty of Afghans about this. When they understand that we're not there to colonize, but merely the -- that viceroy, that lead federal official term, is someone that will rationalize, so we don't go through a commander every year, like we have been, or a different ambassador every two years or who -- so, there's been a complete fragmentation of unity of command. That has to change.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that's the former Blackwater founder, Erik Prince, speaking with Erin Burnett on CNN, talking about an American viceroy, that he's pushing for, that apparently Bannon supports, and McMaster, the national security adviser, and James Mattis -- both generals -- are opposed to. So there's a real battle going on, and there's a real defamation campaign going on by extremely conservative forces against H.R. McMaster to push this through. But an American viceroy and an even further privatization of the military, this coming the same week that the sentences for three of four Blackwater guards who opened fire, September 2007, on Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square happened -- the overturning of those sentences, and the fourth one, his murder conviction, overturned.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah. A few years ago, I met with President Ghani of Afghanistan, and I doubt that Ghani would be happy about Prince's plan and him personally being put in charge of a private army there, partly because of his own criminal past, Blackwater's criminal past in Iraq and elsewhere. But I think what Prince is talking about with a private corporate war could be the wave of the future, both in terms of Pentagon policy, subcontracting to corporations, but also, as the next stage, corporations having their own private armies. Many already have their own private police forces, dating back to the old Pinkertons and, as you saw at the Dakota Access pipeline, private police forces and paramilitaries. In the eastern Congo, in the mineral region, you have mining corporations making deals with local militias to, in effect, be their private armies. But you don't yet have corporations, like, say, an ExxonMobil, that has its own air force that drops bombs and its own troops that go around with machine guns. But I think that -- growing out of the kind of thing that Prince is proposing, I think that could be the wave of the future.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go on with Prince. The Military Times reported that the Blackwater founder, Erik Prince, lobbied the Afghan government on a plan to assemble a private air force, including fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter gunships, drones, capable of close air support to ground forces. The plan would partly rely on an iPhone app called Safe Strike that soldiers could use to target airstrikes. Allan Nairn?
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, it's -- you know, Trump has already said, "Don't ask the White House." This is regarding U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere. "Don't ask the White House. Use your own judgment in attacks." And now, what he's talking about is corporations using their own judgment in who to kill from the air, although, he says, under the guidance of a colonial viceroy.
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break and then come back to this discussion. We're speaking with longtime investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: "Mother of Exiles" by Vermont musician Peter Gould. We'll post his whole song on our website at democracynow.org" about the poet Emma Lazarus, her poem "New Colossus," that appears on the base of the Statue of Liberty, that was challenged by President Trump's senior adviser Stephen Miller when he held a White House press briefing last week.
It's been six months since Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in as head of the Department of Justice. In that time, Sessions has managed to undo nearly every aspect of Obama's civil rights legacy. We look at how Sessions is using the Justice Department to roll back decades of progress on civil rights, voting rights, LGBT rights and police reform. We speak with Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She is the former head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Winning! It's the White House watchword when it comes to the U.S. armed forces. "We will give our military the tools you need to prevent war and, if required, to fight war and only do one thing -- you know what that is? Win! Win!" President Donald Trump exclaimed earlier this year while standing aboard the new aircraft carrier U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford.
Since World War II, however, neither preventing nor winning wars have been among America's strong suits. The nation has instead been embroiled in serial conflicts and interventions in which victories have been remarkably scarce, a trend that has only accelerated in the post-9/11 era. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Somalia to the Philippines, Libya to Yemen, military investments -- in lives and tax dollars -- have been costly and enduring victories essentially nonexistent.
But Amadou Sanogo is something of a rare all-American military success story, even if he isn't American and his success was fleeting. Sanogo learned English in Texas, received instruction from U.S. Marines in Virginia, took his intelligence training in Arizona, and underwent Army infantry officer basic training in Georgia. Back home in his native Mali, the young army officer was reportedly much admired for his sojourn, studies, and training in the United States.
In March 2012, Sanogo put his popularity and skills to use when he led a coup that overthrew Mali's elected government. "America is [a] great country with a fantastic army. I tried to put all the things I learned there into practice here," he told Der Spiegel during his tenure as Mali's military strongman. (He eventually lost his grip on power, was arrested, and in 2016 went on trial for "complicity in kidnapping and assassination.")
Since 9/11, the United States has spent more than $250 billion training foreign military and police personnel like Sanogo. Year after year, a sprawling network of U.S. programs provides 200,000 of these soldiers and security officers with assistance and support. In 2015, almost 80,000 of them, hailing from 154 countries, received what's formally known as Foreign Military Training (FMT).
The stated goals of two key FMT programs -- International Military Education and Training (IMET) and the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) -- include promoting "international peace and security" and increasing the awareness among foreign military personnel of "internationally recognized human rights." In reality, these programs focus on strengthening U.S. partner and proxy forces globally, though there's scant evidence that they actually succeed in that goal. A study published in July, analyzing data from 1970 to 2009, finds that FMT programs are, however, effective at imparting skills integral to at least one specific type of armed undertaking. "We find a robust relationship between U.S. training of foreign militaries and military-backed coup attempts," wrote Jonathan Caverley of the U.S. Naval War College and Jesse Savage of Trinity College Dublin in the Journal of Peace Research.
Through nearly 200 separate programs, the State Department and the Department of Defense (DoD) engage in what's called "security cooperation," "building partner capacity," and other assistance to foreign forces. In 2001, the DoD administered about 17% of security assistance funding. By 2015, that figure had jumped to approximately 60%. The Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program, a post-9/11 creation indicative of this growth, is mostly run through the DoD and focuses on training mid- and senior-level defense officials from allied militaries in the tenets of counterterrorism. The State Department, by contrast, is the driving force behind the older and larger IMET program, though the Defense Department implements the training.
Under IMET, foreign personnel -- like Sanogo -- travel to the U.S. to take classes and undergo instruction at military schools and bases. "IMET is designed to help foreign militaries bolster their relationships with the United States, learn about U.S. military equipment, improve military professionalism, and instill democratic values in their members," wrote Joshua Kurlantzick in a 2016 Council on Foreign Relations memorandum aimed at reforming the program.
However, in an investigation published earlier this year, Lauren Chadwick of the Center for Public Integrity found that, according to official U.S. government documents, at least 17 high-ranking foreigners -- including five generals -- trained through IMET between 1985 and 2010 were later accused and in some cases convicted of criminal and human rights abuses. An open-source study by the non-profit Center for International Policy found another 33 U.S.-trained foreign military officers who later committed human rights abuses. And experts suggest that the total number of criminal U.S. trainees is likely to be far higher, since IMET is the only one of a sprawling collection of security assistance programs that requires official reports on human rights abusers.
In their Journal of Peace Research study, Caverley and Savage kept the spotlight on IMET because the program "explicitly focuses on promoting norms of civilian control" of the military. Indeed, it's a truism of U.S. military assistance programs that they instill democratic values and respect for international norms. Yet the list of U.S.-trained coup-makers -- from Isaac Zida of Burkina Faso, Haiti's Philippe Biamby, and Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia to Egypt's Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, and the IMET-educated leaders of the 2009 coup in Honduras, not to mention Mali's Amadou Sanogo -- suggests an embrace of something other than democratic values and good governance. "We didn't spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics, and military ethos," then chief of U.S. Africa Command, Carter Ham, said of Sanogo following his coup. "I believe that we focused exclusively on tactical and technical [training]."
In 2014, two generations of U.S.-educated officers faced off in The Gambia as a group of American-trained would-be coup-makers attempted (but failed) to overthrow the U.S.-trained coup-maker Yahya Jammeh who had seized power back in 1994. The unsuccessful rebellion claimed the life of Lamin Sanneh, the purported ringleader, who had earned a master's degree at National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, D.C. (Two other coup plotters had apparently even served in the U.S. military.) "I can't shake the feeling that his education in the United States somehow influenced his actions," wrote Sanneh's former NDU mentor Jeffrey Meiser. "I can't help but wonder if simply imprinting our foreign students with the 'American program' is counterproductive and unethical."
Caverly warns that Washington should also be cautious about exporting its own foreign and domestic policy imperatives, given that recent administrations have left the Defense Department flush with funding and the State Department's coffers so bare that generals are forced to beg on its behalf. "Put more succinctly," he explained, "you need to build up multiple groups within civil society to complement and sometimes counterbalance an empowered military."
Caverley and Savage identified 275 military-backed coups that occurred worldwide between 1970 and 2009. In 165 of them, members of that country's armed forces had received some IMET or CTFP training the year before the coup. If you add up all the years of such instruction for all those countries, it tops out at 3,274 "country years." In 165 instances, a takeover attempt was carried out the next year. "That's 5%, which is very high, since coups happen rarely," Caverley told TomDispatch. "The ratio for country-years with no U.S. training is 110 out of 4101, or 2.7%."
While U.S. training didn't carry the day in The Gambia in 2014 (as it had in 1994 when U.S. military-police-training alumnus Yahya Jammeh seized power), it is nonetheless linked with victorious juntas. "Successful coups are strongly associated with IMET training and spending," Caverley and Savage noted. According to their findings, American trainees succeeded in overthrowing their governments in 72 of the 165 coup attempts.
There is significant evidence that the sprawling patchwork of America's military training programs for foreign forces is hopelessly broken. In 2013, a State Department advisory board found that American security aid had no coherent means of evaluation and no cohesive strategy. It compared the "baffling" array of programs to "a philanthropic grant-making process by an assemblage of different foundations with different agendas."
A 2014 RAND analysis of U.S. security cooperation (SC) found "no statistically significant correlation between SC and change in countries' fragility in Africa or the Middle East." A 2015 report from U.S. Special Operations Command's Joint Special Operations University noted that efforts at building partner capacity have "in the past consumed vast resources for little return." That same year, an analysis by the Congressional Research Service concluded that "despite the increasing emphasis on, and centrality of, [building partner capacity] in national security strategy and military operations, the assumption that building foreign security forces will have tangible U.S. national security benefits remains a relatively untested proposition."
"There are no standard guidelines for determining the goals of [counter-terrorism] security assistance programs, particularly partner capacity-building training programs, or for assessing how these programs fit into broader U.S. foreign policy objectives," reads a 2016 Center for a New American Security report. "And there are few metrics for measuring the effectiveness of these programs once they are being implemented." And in his 2016 report on IMET for the Council on Foreign Relations, Kurlantzick noted that the effort is deeply in need of reform. "The program," he wrote, "contains no system for tracking which foreign military officers attended IMET… [a]dditionally, the program is not effectively promoting democracy and respect for civilian command of armed forces."
Studies aside, the failures of U.S. training efforts across the Greater Middle East have been obvious for years. From the collapse of the U.S.-built Iraqi army in the face of small numbers of Islamic State militants to a stillborn effort to create a new armed force for Libya, a $500 million failed effort to train and equip Syrian rebels, and an often incompetent, ghost-soldier-filled, desertion-prone army in Afghanistan, large-scale American initiatives to build and bolster foreign forces have crashed and burned repeatedly.
One thing stateside U.S. training does seem to do, according to Caverley and Savage, is increase "human capital" -- that is, foreign trainees' professional skills like small unit tactics and strategic planning as well as intangibles like increased prestige in their home countries. And unlike other forms of American aid that allow regimes to shuttle state resources toward insulating the government from coups by doing anything from bribing potential rivals to fostering parallel security forces (like presidential guards), FMT affords no such outlet. "If you give assets to a group with guns and a strong corporate identity within a country lacking well-developed institutions and norms, you create the potential for political imbalance," Caverley told TomDispatch. "An extreme example of that imbalance is an attempt to take over the entire government."
Strength and Numbers
The United States has a troubled past when it comes to working with foreign militaries. From Latin America to Southeast Asia, Washington has a long history of protecting, backing, and fostering forces implicated in atrocities. Within the last several months alone, reports have surfaced about U.S.-trained or -aided forces from the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Cameroon, and Iraq torturing or executing prisoners.
Some U.S.-trained figures like Isaac Zida in Burkina Faso and Amadou Sanogo in Mali have experienced only short-term successes in overthrowing their country's governments. Others like The Gambia's Yahya Jammeh (who went into exile in January after 22 years in power) and Egypt's president -- and former U.S. Army War College student -- Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have had far more lasting tenures as strongmen in their homelands.
Any foreign military training provided by the U.S., write Caverley and Savage, "corresponds to a doubling of the probability of a military-backed coup attempt in the recipient country." And the more money the U.S. spends or the more soldiers it trains via IMET, the higher the risk of a coup d'état.
In 2014, the U.S. resumed IMET support for Mali -- it had been suspended for a year following the insurrection -- and even increased that funding by a modest $30,000. That West African nation has, however, never recovered from the coup crisis of 2012 and, half a decade later, remains wracked by an insurgency that Sanogo, his successors, and a French- and U.S.-backed military campaign have been unable to defeat. As the militant groups in Mali have grown and metastasized, the U.S. has continued to pour money into training local military personnel. In 2012, the year Amadou Sanogo seized power, the U.S. spent $69,000 in IMET funds on training Malian officers in the United States. Last year, the figure reached $738,000.
For the better part of two decades from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to Pakistan, Somalia to Syria, U.S. drone strikes, commando raids, large-scale occupations and other military interventions have led to small-scale tactical triumphs and long-term stalemates (not to mention death and destruction). Training efforts in and military aid to those and other nations -- from Mali to South Sudan, Libya to the Philippines -- have been plagued by setbacks, fiascos, and failures.
President Trump has promised the military "tools" necessary to "prevent" and "win" wars. By that he means "resources, personnel training and equipment... the finest equipment in the world." Caverley and Savage's research suggests that the Pentagon could benefit far more from analytical tools to shed light on programs that cost hundreds of billions of dollars and deliver counterproductive results -- programs, that is, where the only "wins" are achieved by the likes of Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia and Egypt's Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
"Warfighters focus on training other warfighters. Full stop. Any second order effects, like coups, are not the primary consideration for the training," Caverley explains. "That's why security cooperation work by the U.S. military, like its more violent operations, needs to be put in a strategic context that is largely lacking in this current administration, but was not much in evidence in other administrations either."
(Photo: Bizoo_n / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Legal experts and voting rights advocates are raising alarms about a reversal in the Justice Department's long-standing interpretation of a federal law that dictates when and how states can purge voters from their rolls.
Regarding the pending Supreme Court case Husted v A. Philip Randolph Institute, President Donald Trump's Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an amicus brief (pdf) in favor of Ohio's voter-rolls maintenance program -- which cancels registrations of those who do not update their registrations or vote over six years -- a move that critics warn "opens the door for wide-scale unlawful purging of the voter registration rolls across our country."
"Just last summer, the Justice Department had affirmed in this same case, before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, its view that Ohio's voter purge practices violated federal law," said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
"The law hasn't changed since the Department accurately told the Court that Ohio's voter purge was unlawful. The facts haven't changed. Only the leadership of the Department has changed," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) -- further clarified in 2002 with the Help America Vote Act -- requires states to maintain accurate voter rolls by removing registrations of people who have moved or died. It also says that states' maintenance programs "shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person's failure to vote." States are authorized to remove a registrant's name from the rolls if they fail to respond to an address-verification notice, and then do not vote during a period spanning two federal elections.
Many states wait for an indication that a voter may have moved before turning to the NVRA process, but states such as Ohio send a notice "to voters who lack voter activity over two years, and removes individuals from the rolls if they both fail to respond to the notice and fail to engage in voter activity for four more years."
As a result of last year's appeals court ruling against the Ohio program, the Toledo Blade reported: "About 7,500 voters who were purged from Ohio voter registration rolls from 2011-2014 but were then reinstated at the order of a federal judge last year showed up and voted in the 2016 presidential election."
The DOJ under former President Barack Obama supported the appeals court ruling, noting that in 2010 the department had issued guidance that "addresses the precise issue presented in this case and articulates the department's position that states must have reliable evidence indicating a voter's change of address before they initiate the NVRA-prescribed process to cancel the voter's registration based on a change of residence."
However, Ohio appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case, and the new DOJ -- headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose history with regard to civil rights has raised concerns since President Donlad Trump nominated him -- has now revised its guidance for the law. The shift may not have widespread department support, though, as Ari Berman reported in Mother Jones: "Notably, no career lawyers from the Civil Rights Division signed the brief, as is customary, potentially signifying internal opposition to the department's new position."
It certainly has voting rights advocates worried. Gupta said: "The sudden shift in longstanding position because of a change in political administrations raises real concerns about the politicization of the Justice Department's historic role in protecting voting rights."
However, criticisms of the Trump administration and its Justice Department aren't limited to this recent shift in policy, which follows a number of other voter-related measures that have been criticized as attacks on voting rights.
"Monday's filing was further confirmation of some of our worst fears about the Trump administration's crackdown on voting rights," Gupta said. "Whether through repeated false statements about supposed mass illegal voting, creating a sham commission to pave the way for voter purges, or telling courts that it's acceptable for states to remove eligible voters from the rolls without adequate evidence, the Trump administration is leading an attack on voting rights."
"The Department of Justice's latest reversal of its position in a critical voting rights case represents just the latest example of an agency whose leadership has lost its moral compass," said Clarke.
A lot has happened in the first eight months of resistance to the Trump administration. Obamacare survived an assault in Congress, but Wall Street remains emboldened under Trump. In this week's Interview for Resistance, Sarah Jaffe speaks with Global Exchange organizer Jeff Ordower about the state of the resistance, and where we can go from here.
Protesters display signs at the White House the day after former FBI Director James Comey's firing in Washington, DC, May 10, 2017. (Photo: Mike Maguire)
Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same. Today's interview is the 63rd in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a wide-ranging discussion with Jeff Ordower, the executive director of Global Exchange.
Sarah Jaffe: It is now August. That means we are in month eight of #Resistance. How do you think we are doing so far?
Jeff Ordower: We are not winning, obviously, but I think we are doing better than I would have anticipated. Obamacare still exists. Richard Cordray [at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] has not been fired yet. I remember being on location with some folks who worked on Wall Street reform and they were making plans for the response to his firing. They thought that was going to happen imminently. Even some smaller things around financial reform, like it is entirely possible that the new arbitration rule from the Obama administration is going to stay in effect, which will give folks the right to sue, for example, Wells Fargo if [bank employees] opened a fraudulent account and then used that money to sell you fraudulent auto insurance on that loan.
So, I actually think things are in some ways better than we could have imagined, and that is in large part thanks to the amazing work of the resistance. So many people have stepped forward, many people who had not been active before. Smart organizers have figured out how to harness that energy. Whether that is bringing hundreds of people to a mass arrest or giving people a really solid program for saying, "If you are going to your Congressperson's office, here is how you create an alternative town hall" or "Here is how you bring a handwritten letter," creating containers and vehicles so folks who are pretty new can be activated and do something that is really relevant. I think that is pretty inspiring.
That could all change momentarily if there is a terrorist attack or we pre-emptively invade somewhere. I think war changes the footing of everything and unfortunately changes what is possible in terms of overall repression. From my perch as the director of Global Exchange, the other worrisome thing is the shrinking of rights is just so possible. Around the world, there are so many templates for this….
Health care, obviously, took center stage for most of the last several months -- ultimately, successfully. People immediately reacted and said, "We have got to stop cuts to Medicaid. We have got to stop them overturning the ACA," and managed to get a lot of good work done. What are the lessons that you are taking from how that went down for the other fights that everybody now has to pivot to?
I think the story is really critical. Uprisings and movements happen because something horrible happened or something that affects people is going to happen…. as organizers we sometimes fall into the trap where we want to have the perfect thing; either it is the perfect narrative, the perfect story -- I know in the early days of the health care fight, for example, people were like, "If you want to move McCain, you have to get seven veterans to go to McCain's office."
I think sometimes we try to be too strategic. Really, if people want to move, we have got to give them something to do that makes sense. Sometimes that is occupying a park or putting your bodies on the line and sometimes that is just like, "Show up with a handwritten letter. Here is your toolkit for organizing this alternative town hall." I think creating those containers where everyone can take action is really, really important.
Trump, very notably, ran criticizing Hillary Clinton's Wall Street ties, Ted Cruz's Wall Street ties, everybody's Wall Street ties, but, as you said, Wall Street is making tons of money under the Trump administration. Is making a point about Trump's Wall Street connections a good place to put some energy now that health care is somewhat on the back burner?
Yes, but people are going to move on what they are going to move on. The pernicious effects of finance capital are apparent. You think about Goldman Sachs, that folks have been fighting them as "Government Sachs." They would have been running the Clinton administration or the Trump administration. It is fascinating to think it is an organization that can accommodate as alumni Stephen Bannon and Gary Cohn. There [was] a separate set of Goldman Sachs folks that would have gone into the Clinton administration.
Yes, it is the right place to send resources, and if you do your power research, you can trace things not just in this country, but globally. The public/private partnerships that a Goldman Sachs is doing or that a Blackstone is doing, whether they are trying to get $40 billion with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to build infrastructure and privatize it all. That is real and we need to be fighting it. Then, these are the same institutions that are, for example, floating police bonds, charging cities exorbitant rates so that when their police murder people, they cannot make those payments. It is an intersectional fight. I think we have to do a better job of getting folks to see that. People feel it in their gut, but then it is less clear what they can do.
In solidarity with Standing Rock, there were hundreds of actions against Wells Fargo in big cities like in New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, all pulling their funds from Wells Fargo because of their financing behind the specific wrong…. The more we can name capitalism and finance capital as the enemy, the more folks are going to want to join in that fight.
We need a different model for us taking on corporate power, and we don't really have that. Occupy was interesting around that because it told the story. I don't think the banks feared -- they feared the message, but I don't think they feared that the Occupy movement was going to take down the banks. We need something in between just telling the story and the sophisticated campaigns where we are trying to change a piece of behavior. We need to have a fundamental conflict with the Blackstones, with the Goldmans, and with the Wells Fargos of the world, but we don't really have a good model for doing that, and that is the thing we have got to figure out.
There are now 25,000 people who are paid-up members of the Democratic Socialists of America. There are others that have also grown since this election. After your years of organizing in different places, what do you see is different in the way people are organizing themselves now?
We are naming capitalism in a way that we haven't named before. I think that is vital and critical.
My generation of organizers -- I am in my mid-40s -- was sort of raised and mentored by the Baby Boomers. A lot of the Baby Boomers who went into the nuts and bolts of organizing were non-ideological because they saw that as a reaction to the 1960s, when there were a lot of ideological groups, there were a lot of people who didn't want to go and do the hard work of building organization and building a base. So they tended to be distrustful of that…. I think the vast majority who moved into the networks and into labor were not publically talking about vision, talking about ideology. That hurt us.
It is exciting to see the next generation really, really talking about socialism, really talking about capitalism. That is such an amazing thing. I think it opens a lot more freewheeling conversation. I think where we go next sometimes -- I feel like we are starting to get there. If you take, let's say, the Movement for Black Lives Vision platform that really articulates the world in which we want to live, that is amazing and that should be a north star for all of us. Then, we can talk about how we get there, but I think the more we are putting out utopias, if you will, the more we can really start to talk to real people about what it might mean to have free education, or what it might mean to not have the police, or what it might mean to not have banks. Is basic income on the table? Is a liveable wage on the table? Is a guaranteed right to housing? All of these things, I think, fit the world in which we want to live, and it is good that we are starting to get there.
Again, that gets back to the question of: What is the best way to achieve the changes that we want? But, it is exciting that all of that is on the table now and that we are moving into that era.
People are now saying, "We need to have a platform. We need to have goals"…
There is just so much vibrant and sophisticated organizing…. We need sophisticated campaign-style organizing. We need really electoral work with bite…. It can be ballot initiatives around abolishing the police or around basic income at the local level or even in some states that are intriguing, the smaller states and lower signature threshold. I think we are underutilizing that….
What is the thing that Standing Rock and Occupy and Ferguson all had in common? And the sit-in in the Wisconsin Capitol? … What they all have in common is that people showed up and then they didn't go home. I think we need to try to do more of those kinds of things … where people are there and they are willing to stay there and fight it out. If we can do that, then we are going to see more disruptions.
Not all of them are going to work because not all of anything in organizing works, but the resources that we spend on sophisticated campaign work vastly outweigh, parsing the political moment, what we spend on really trying to create disruptions. I think that is super important that we really spend some resources and force some more conflicts.
And that isn't to take anything away from such a rich fabric of really sophisticated anti-police campaigns, minimum wage campaigns … I think what is exciting about this anti-capitalist moment is also a desire for the work to be much more intersectional. Show Me $15 working with choice groups and being a racial justice organization deliberately -- Show Me $15 being the Missouri component of the Fight for $15. Those are the kinds of things that are really, really interesting and important.
When Trump came out and made a big fuss about how the military is not going to allow transgender people to serve anymore because their health care is "too expensive," even as Congress was voting on a health care bill that would take health care away from millions of people, it helped show that this is the full-scale assault on all of us and certain people become the most targeted. What advice do you have on how to counter the argument that issues are "divisive" or "a distraction" if they affect a certain marginalized group?
I was in central Pennsylvania a couple of months ago with folks. There is this great project, Small Towns Rising, that was helping make organizing materials available to lots and lots of folks. You would hear people be like, "Oh no, we have to fight immigration here and health care here and financial reform here," and "What are we going to do? It is too many things."
But there is a fundamental question, and it is about system change. I don't know what that looks like. It is not just getting rid of Trump/Pence. It is a more fundamental change. Maybe it is changing our structure of government and how we work. Maybe it is just creating, within an existing framework, a different kind of thing…. We need to think about the fact that fundamentally the system is working the way it is designed to do. It isn't working to help people. It was a Constitution written by landowning white men. So, what do we need to do to change things up and change the equation and make a very different world and change this regime more fundamentally?
About ten years ago now, I was in Bolivia. It was a few years after Evo Morales had been elected. We were meeting with some groups who had helped write the new constitution and they said that they had included LGBTQ issues in the new constitution … not just non-discrimination on sexual orientation, but also on gender identity…. They did that because there is a left government and because important forces asked them to do that.
Then, a couple of days later in La Paz I went to the most amazing drag show I have ever been to in my life that was held at a city hall, one of the neighborhood city halls of La Paz because the government had enshrined this right to non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. The deputy mayor came out and was at this drag show, as was the women's group of the neighborhood, as was the queer community of La Paz. I had this "This is what it is like after the revolution" moment because if you really have governing power -- folks get how things fit together and if you have governing power, you can change things fundamentally.
I think we are still trying to win on our issues and we are not thinking about how we peacefully, non-violently, but with enough force, do the things we need to do to disrupt the systems in a way that we can change everything for everyone and that it is interconnected. That isn't to say we ignore issues until the revolution happens, but it is to say that we think much more strategically about governing power that is very different than the system we have.
A single-payer health care fight does seem like a good place to flex those muscles, because to win it you are not just going to have to get lawmakers to agree to pass laws, you are going to have to defeat really powerful and very well-financed corporate entities.
The health care companies rule a piece of the world and are making a buck but are also willing to cut deals when necessary. A lot of why the ACA passed was because a significant number of insurance companies had a certain price that they could meet to support it….
[Health care] is a place to flex our muscles if we could do that and if we could win. You think about how close folks came in California, they won in Vermont and then lost in Vermont. There is a lot of potential to really see concrete wins. That is the appeal. It is a fight for which there is a lot of momentum. Also, it really does create a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party in a very clear-cut way….
We should also think about how we keep the fight against Wall Street alive, because that is about building a global movement for solidarity that seems really, really necessary…
Global solidarity is a good place to end, I think. There is a bill being pushed through Congress that is getting bipartisan support that would criminalize the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Since you have done work around this issue, as well, talk about that and what people can do to stop that.
I think this is sort of a last-gasp effort from the forces of the pro-Israel, pro-Israeli government forces to say, "Actually, if you say things against Israel, you are anti-Semitic," and nothing could be further from the truth. It's a fascinating moment that is going to move very rapidly. Now, that doesn't change what is happening on the ground, but because the Zionist establishment is so powerful right now, they are going to ram this bill through in so many places. I think close to a majority of states have passed criminalization of boycott/divestment/sanctions.
What can folks do to stop it? … I don't always agree with [the ACLU], but they are talking about it being a free speech issue. That seems really, really important. I also think sometimes legislation is passed when the poll numbers aren't moving your way, so you try to move things legislatively. I also think what is going to be exciting is there are people who are going to defy that ban. We think about folks in the climate movement who are willing to go to prison because of work that they have done, not just to jail. I think we are going to see some of that around BDS, as well. I think this is a minor setback, but the repression is going to backfire. Folks should be trying to fight the BDS bills, but at the end of the day, this is going to put the BDS movement, and the movement for human rights more internationally, much more in the forefront and it is going to have unintended consequences for folks who are trying to tamp down on dissent.
Excellent. How can people keep up with you and your work?
Folks should check out www.globalexchange.org. It is probably the most substantive piece of the work that I am doing right now. Then, also, I am involved with a lot of other wonderful organizations including Rising Tide of North America, and Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Jewish Voice for Peace. What is exciting about this time is there are so many wonderful groups doing so much sophisticated work and it is really important for folks to pick a couple of different places where they want to put their energy or one place that they are most passionate about. There is no absolute right answer. Hopefully, everyone will find the work that they want to do and get involved.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.
"Our house was bombed and collapsed on top of us. We spent a year going from place to place inside Syria.... When there was shelling, we'd be about 300 people in the underground shelter," says Um Khaled, a mother from Aleppo. In this excerpt from We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled, readers experience what life is like for two Syrians.
Syrian refugee Mohammed Hmayed holds a hand over an eye that was injured by shrapnel in a bombing in Syria in which he also lost a finger on November 13, 2013, in Beirut, Lebanon. Hmayed, who is from the city of Douma, Syria, lives in a two-room apartment with 12 people. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
The personal stories of ordinary Syrians have all too often been ignored or distorted by the media to exploit their suffering and serve an agenda. In a heart-wrenching and enlightening new book, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled, Syrian voices speak for themselves, sharing their memories of war and displacement with Wendy Pearlman and thus with readers. Order your copy by making a donation to Truthout today!
In the following excerpt, two Syrian refugees interviewed by Wendy Pearlman share their experiences (translated into English by Pearlman).
Um Khaled, Mother (Aleppo)
Our house was bombed and collapsed on top of us. We spent a year going from place to place inside Syria. We spent all the money we had. First we went to the countryside. We were thirty-five people in one house. The women would sleep in one room and the men in another. When there was shelling, we'd be about three hundred people in the underground shelter.
My youngest daughter, Hayat, was in first grade. She'd wake up at night screaming and her father would hold her. Finally he told me, "You can't bear any more of this. It will destroy you. I want to get you to another country."
I said, "Come with us."
He said, "No, I want to get you to safety." He wanted to stay because our eldest daughter was staying. She is married and has four kids.
So we left and came to Lebanon and my husband and daughter stayed in Syria. I'd talk to him and tell him to get out. He'd say, "You still have a daughter in Syria and I want to be able to check on her. Your siblings and my siblings and their children are also here. I won't leave. The important thing is that I am reassured about you." He'd ask me if I was well and I would say yes. But I was not well. I just wanted to put his heart at ease.
We found a storage space where we could live. I had some gold and I sold part of it to pay the rent. The space had no water, no electricity, nothing. But it was a place for us to sleep -- me and my children, my grandchildren, and one of my sons-in-law, who was sick with liver disease. I'm a housewife and have no experience working. But I found work in a factory and worked for six months. I didn't tell my husband.
Then I got news that a plane dropped a bomb and killed seven people. My husband was among them. I don't know if he was inside the house or outside the house. The house was blown away. I tried to get information, to understand what happened. People told me that he was just like everyone else: you're in the street and a missile comes, or who knows what. They sent me a photo of his burial so I'd believe that he was dead.
That was three years ago. When he died, I had to observe a period of mourning, as our religion expects. So I stopped working and stayed home. We had no food or drink. I got my other daughters here from Syria, God knows how. One was eight months pregnant. Her husband was not allowed through. She suffered. She'd faint when she stood up. I'd cry thinking that she was going to die.
I found another job, washing stairs in buildings and sweeping garages. By then we were eighteen people sleeping in the storage space: my four married daughters, my three sons-in-law, their nine children, Hayat, and me. In winter I'd put a thin comforter on the floor for the kids and fold it over them. After they woke up, I'd put it on myself.
Hayat would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, "Mama, they killed Daddy!" I'd say, "It's okay, God rest his soul."
The other kids would say, "Grandma, look at the mouse!" I'd say, "It's okay, it won't do anything."
Nur, Beautician (Aleppo)
After two years in Lebanon, my husband's work came to a halt. We went back to Aleppo, but found things were even worse then we'd left them. We needed to find somewhere else to go.
We left for Turkey and then made it to the shore. I'd carefully packed one bag with basic necessities: our papers, passports, water, aspirin, rubbing alcohol, toothpaste, a change of clothes, and cookies for the kids. The smuggler told us that there was no room, and we'd have to leave everything behind.Truthout Progressive Pick
"A powerful must-read book for anyone wanting to understand what’s happening in Syria and why it matters." -- Chicago Review of BooksClick here now to get the book!
The dinghy arrived. Getting on was like throwing yourself into a deep, dark hole. My husband looked at me and said, "Should we go back?" I responded, "To where?"
In Greece we started walking. My husband carried our son the entire three-week journey. I held our daughter by the hand. We went from Greece to Macedonia, and then to Serbia, Hungary, and Austria before reaching Germany. Everyone along the way tried to make profits at our expense. Days were flaming hot and nights as cold as ice. My feet bled and all I wanted to do was sleep. Every step we took, we found ourselves longing for the one we'd just taken. When we slept on the street, we'd say, "How beautiful the dinghy was." Then we'd get to a field where thousands of people were waiting for days to cross the border from one country to another. We'd say, "How beautiful it was to sleep in the street."
Once while I was waiting for an appointment in one of the state agencies here I met a journalist. She told me, "The most important thing is that now you're safe." I told her, "But we haven't come looking for safety. We're not afraid of death."
And it's true. We don't have a problem with death. Our problem is life without dignity. If we'd known what was in store for us, we never would have come. But we did come, and now we can't just return. There's no way back. It's as if we were walking on a rope that kept getting cut behind us as we moved forward. Like in the cartoons, when the characters cross a bridge that crumbles beneath them as they run.
Copyright (2017) by Wendy Pearlman. Not to be reposted without permission of Harper Collins Publishers.
The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking public records connected to Interior Secretary Zinke’s recommendations to undermine important conservation protections for the imperiled greater sage grouse.
Study Finds That Boosting Soil’s Sponge-Like Qualities Would Help Farmers, Communities Combat Floods and Droughts
Farming practices that keep soil covered year-round can reduce the damage caused by both floods and droughts, according to a new study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The Persuader Rule Would Have Shined a Spotlight on the Union-Avoidance Industry – but the Trump Administration is Rescinding It
In a new comment submitted to the Department of Labor, EPI Associate Labor Counsel Marni von Wilpert argues that the “Persuader Rule,” which is designed to add transparency to union elections by requiring companies to disclose when they hire professional union busters, should not be rescinded.
Kenyan police must not use unnecessary force in their handling of any election-related protests, said Amnesty International today amid fear and uncertainty in the country after the opposition rejected the initial publicly announced results.
According to several reports published earlier today, North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead designed to fit inside its missiles.
A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council highlights the tremendous economic and environmental benefits of some two dozen American parklands and waters. There is robust public support for protecting these national monuments. In the coming weeks, however, the Trump administration could attempt to remove protections for these public lands and waters, and open them to oil, gas, mineral or other resource extraction.
Anti-war campaigners from the Stop the War Coalition and CND will be having a protest delegation to protest against Trump's inflammatory statements and behaviour towards North Korea this Friday at 1pm at the US Embassy on Grosvenor Square. The delegation will be handing in a statement calling for Trump to de-escalate.
Donald Trump has threatened North Korea with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" as the world remembers the 72nd anniversary of the US atomic bombs on two Japanese cities.
Carol Turner, CND vice chair, said:
It seems Donald Trump's 2020 run for the White House will look a lot like his 2016 bid -- the campaign will patronize Trump-owned enterprises right down to its very office supplies -- ensuring the candidate and his family will profit. However, should the campaign really be paying for Donald Jr.'s lawyer?
Donald Trump yells to supporters at a campaign rally at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona, on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
It seems Donald Trump's 2020 run for the White House will look a lot like his 2016 bid -- the campaign will patronize Trump-owned enterprises -- ensuring the candidate and his family will profit.
For instance, the campaign has already paid $395,000 for space in New York's pricey Trump Tower, according to spending reports for the first six months of the year filed with the Federal Election Commission. Whatever logic may have existed in 2016 for housing the campaign in the same place where Donald Trump conducted his business, does not obtain in 2020 when the candidate is 230 miles away in the White House. Overall, the campaign has raised $15 million and spent $10.7 million.
Of course, staffers stay in Trump hotels. For instance, the campaign has dropped $12,400 alone in lodging costs at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. And to the degree one can tell which charges are for a one-night stay, the campaign usually paid more than the advertised rate for the cheapest room, which is now $319 per night. One can question why aides must stay in a five-star hotel in the first place, but if that type of luxury is required, Trump's digs would not be the first choice. For instance, Washington's venerable five-star The Hay-Adams not only has rooms that are $40 cheaper per night than Trump's, it is ranked higher by consumers in Tripadvisor (no. 3 vs. no. 11), but is even closer to the White House.
This is all business as usual for Trump. A $13,800 payment for "Facility Rental/Catering Services" to Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, a total of $7,700 to New York's "Trump Restaurants LLC" for rental and catering, and $3,000 in total to the same entity for "rental." (Maybe no one ate.) No expense is too trivial for an opportunity to line his pockets. For instance, on March 13, 2017, the campaign paid "Trump Ice LLC" $940.50 for "office supplies." The campaign must have had a busy 48 hours using yellow highlighters because on March 15, they paid another $940.50 to the same entity for more "office supplies."
Yet, even by Trump standards, there are certain expenditures that standout. For instance, the Trump Corporation collected nearly $90,000 from the campaign in June for "legal consulting." Just what this "legal consulting" was for is left unspecified. And the Trump Corporation is not to be confused with the Trump Organization, the holding company for the president's business ventures. The Trump Corporation is the president's real estate management company, from which he collected $18 million in the 12 months preceding June 2017, according to Trump's disclosure to the Office of Government Ethics.
Perhaps these payments are in some way tied to Michael Cohen, who is inevitably described as "Trump's personal lawyer." Cohen used to have the title of executive vice president and special counsel to Trump at the Trump Organization, but Cohen quit these posts in January so he could work full-time for the president and the president alone. But Cohen does not work for the White House Counsel's office; in fact, the only payroll he is on, so far as is known, is Donald Trump's.
Naturally, Cohen is caught-up in one small tentacle of the Trump/Russia investigation, and has hired his own lawyer. In late January, Cohen met with an opposition lawmaker from the Ukraine who handed him a "peace plan" to settle Ukraine's conflict with Russia. Part of the plan included the US lifting sanctions against Russia. Not surprisingly, the legislator said he was encouraged to make the overture from top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Then, in February, when Cohen was visiting his client in the Oval Office, he left a sealed envelope with the plan in the office of Michael Flynn, then-Trump's national security adviser. Flynn resigned the next week because he lied about his own discussions with the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions.
While the $89,000 "legal consulting" payment is murky at best, there is another payment to a lawyer that appears crystal clear. In June, the campaign cut a $50,000 check to Alan S. Futerfas, the New York white collar criminal defense lawyer who represents Donald Trump Jr. in the Russia investigation. The nice, round number suggests that the payment was a retainer agreement. Interestingly, the records show no payments to other lawyers known to be involved in the Russia probe.
The Futerfas payment raises an obvious question. Why is Trump's 2020 campaign paying for an expense stemming from Trump's campaign four years ago? This takes the notion of a permanent campaign to new heights. And why is the campaign -- be it 2016 or 2020 -- paying the legal fees of the candidate's son? To the extent the FEC and the courts have considered whether campaign funds can be used for atypical legal fees, their rulings have always involved the candidate.
What is remarkable, but hardly surprising, is Trump's own self-mythology about the 2016 campaign. In an interview last month with The Wall Street Journal, the transcript of which was published by Politico, loyal aide Hope Hicks reminded the president that he had "self-funded" his campaign. Trump readily agreed, saying that he had "self-funded much" of his 2016 bid. Uh, not exactly. According to OpenSecrets.org Trump gave his campaign $66 million, which represented about 20 percent of the total expenditures of $333 million. Yet, the campaign shelled out about $13 million to various Trump businesses. The self-dealing reduces Trump's contribution by about 20 percent to $53 million, and shaves Trump's personal share of the campaign's expenses down to about 16 percent.
The tragedy in all this does not rest with right-wing billionaires such as James Mercer whose Renaissance Technologies hedge fund gave Trump $15 million. It lies with the small donors – those who gave less than $200. Small donations totaled $87 million four years ago, representing 26 percent of all donations. If one assumes the average contribution was $100, these 870,000 people most likely cannot afford to stay at Trump's hotels, eat at Trump's restaurants, hire Trump's lawyers, or even buy Trump's office supplies. Yet, they have faith that a man who uses their money as a personal piggy bank will Make America Great Again.
The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily those of the Brennan Center for Justice.
As tensions escalate between the United States and North Korea, the US government is particularly ill-equipped to carry out effective diplomacy, thanks to the Trump administration's efforts to dismantle the State Department. The US currently has no ambassador to South Korea, no secretary of Asian Pacific affairs and no secretary of East Asian affairs. For more on the dismantling of the US government, we speak to longtime journalist and activist Allan Nairn.
Please check back later for full transcript.
People watch a North Korea's KRT television show as a presenter announces North Korea has test-launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile at the Seoul Railway Station on July 4, 2017, in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)
Tension between the US and North Korea escalated sharply Tuesday after President Trump suggested he was prepared to start a nuclear war, threatening to unleash "fire and fury" against North Korea. Hours later, North Korea threatened to strike the US territory of Guam in the western Pacific. Guam is home to 163,000 people as well as major US military bases. For more, we speak with longtime investigative journalist Allan Nairn.
Please check back later for full transcript.